Villaraigosa's Out, Who Benefits?
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's decision not to run for governor in 2010 creates a fascinating two-way Democratic primary race between San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and California Attorney General Jerry Brown.
"The answer is no," Villaraigosa told CNN's Wolf Blitzer when asked whether he would run statewide. He added that he felt "compelled" to finish out his second four year term to which he will sworn in on July 1.
Villaraigosa, the most prominent Latino elected official in California, was once seen as a rising star within the party but his underwhelming victory for a second term in March coupled with recent poll data from the Los Angeles Times suggests that he had lost significant elevation politically over the first six months of 2009.
Polling done in the governor's race showed Villaraigosa running in the mid-teens -- bunched closely with Newsom and trailing Brown by between five and ten points.
So, which candidate benefits from Villaraigosa's drop-out decision? That depends on where you stand.
From the Brown perspective, he is likely to gobble up much of Villaraigosa's support since there is no now candidate who calls the costly Los Angeles media market home and the attorney general is the best known candidate in the field.
That line of thinking is based on the belief -- proven out in numerous statewide elections in California -- that voters pay almost no attention to politics and so name identification is the most powerful tool in a winning candidate's arsenal.
Newsom supporters believe that a mano e mano race with Brown will help cement the generational contrast between the two men -- Newsom is 42, Brown is 72 -- in the eyes of voters.
They also see a real fundraising opening in Los Angeles for Newsom who had largely been limited in collecting cash in the City of Angels with Villaraigosa contemplating the contest.
The x-factor in determining who Villaraigosa's departure from the race helps is where the Latino vote goes. Neither Newsom nor Brown have an obvious entree into this community but with more than one in three California residents now of Hispanic origin if one or the other can win a significant majority of the Latino vote, he would immediately be the favorite in the contest.
In the 2008 Democratic presidential primary in California, Hillary Rodham Clinton's victory over Barack Obama was fueled by her dominance in the Hispanic community; Clinton won roughly 67 percent of the Latino vote, according to exit polls, while winning statewide 52 percent to 42 percent.
The key to the Latino vote in the 2010 primary could well be Villaraigosa. While we tend to minimize the power of endorsements, a campaign ad in the Los Angeles media market featuring a Villaraigosa endorsement could have a powerful impact on the Latino vote.
June 22, 2009; 6:10 PM ET
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